Thursday, June 9, 2011

UPDATED 6/9/2011 (6:19 EST) Viral Wildfire: Terrified Debtors Spread The Word About Department of Education's SWAT Team


Yesterday morning few people were aware of what had happened to Kenneth Wright's rights in Stockton, California. Thanks to the hard work of numerous advocates, however, that changed within hours of a local news story about the use of excessive force.

People across the country - and even the globe (my own work was being retweeted by people in Stockholm and London)  - learned that Wright's door was broken down by federal agents, he was handcuffed in his underwear, and thrown into a patrol car for 6 hours. Although the initial report from News10 suggested that the warrant for Wright's estranged wife was for her defaulted federal loans, the story quickly changed over the course of the day. (News10 took the story down once it went viral and has provided an updated version that discusses the use of excessive force. There is no mention of defaulted loans. In addition, News10 released the warrant that indicates that fraud was being committed. However, it is truncated and the entire warrant remains sealed).

It is common knowledge among higher education finance experts that the Department of Education's Office of Inspector's General (OIG) conducts search warrants. Moreover, these cases, as Press Officer Sara Gast explained to me in a recent email, are generally related to investigations of "bribery, fraud, and embezzlement of federal student aid funds." Such investigations are generally limited, Gast told me, to 30 - 35 search warrants a year. But the general public is not privy to this type of activity. (When I followed up with Gast by phone, she provided me with Press Secretary Justin Hamilton's direct line. As of this writing, a call from Hamilton has not been returned).

While Wright's estranged wife may be involved in fraudulent activity, there are two crucial points about this unfolding story. First, it spread like wildfire throughout the blogosphere because it was fueled by fear. Bloggers on the left and the right picked up on the story, and that led to major media outlets putting out reports, too. There is good reason for why it became so hotly discussed. There is a growing number of indentured educated citizens who are fast approaching financial disaster. Thousands and thousands of them have shared their stories with me over the past 2 years. The use of force by the Department resonated with countless readers. Many of them wrote on Facebook pages and tweeted, "It's scary. What if that happened to me?" . . . "I'm close to defaulting on my loans. Will the Department break down my door?"

We all know that there is no way out of this debt, especially if you fall on hard times. The system has been rigged in such a way that allows companies, like Sallie Mae, to benefit from keeping people in debt. Sallie Mae has $146 billion of federal loans on its books. One analyst said, "They have this cash cow which is the legacy portfolio." Hear that, folks? They are making money off of indentured educated people! Make no mistake - they don't want this 'cash cow' to go away.  No one talks about the fact that FFELP is still alive. The administration might have put an end to it, but those loans are still out there and part of these loan sharks' portfolios. So, if you default on any federal loans, you're life is pretty much ruined, whereas the IRS has the power to resolve issues with distressed taxpayers. Both parties can come up with a solution and move on. Student debtors have no such luck. But since we're seen as a 'cash cow,' why would anyone in power want that to change? I'm sure those guys over at Sallie Mae , who live in luxurious mansions, on the East Coast don't want this to change. Neither do the schools. They all control the money, whereas the rest of us are victims of these hucksters. But I digress.

Second, the use of such excessive force was uncalled for. Why an individual who is being sought for fraud warrants a SWAT team -- as it was originally reported -- suggests how far right this country has moved. Wright must have been traumatized when he was handcuffed in his underwear and thrown into a patrol car for 6 hours. His children, who are 3, 7, and 11, had to have been disturbed by the incident as well.

Moreover, this story has fueled numerous and ongoing conspiracy theories. But the elements of the story, along with a great deal of speculation (which was justified), lent themselves to that. It should come as no surprise since the characteristics of American conspiracy theorists are the same as Christian fundamentalists. Fear is also what adds fuel to conspiracy theorists' fire. (They also the need to simplify complex situations. In addition, conspiracy theorists oftentimes - not always - fail to comprehend systemic issues and place too much emphasis on individual agency. Mind you, I am not suggesting that conspiracy theorists are unintelligent, but I do wish to make clear that I do not identify with this type of thinking).

One thing is clear, regardless of how you think or how you identify yourself politically, the Department is tone deaf and reviled across the board. They are as hated, as I've already stated, as Sallie Mae. I had always thought that, but yesterday's outrage drove that home. If they don't get it together, along with the politicians and self-interested lobbyists in DC, we might very well experience a revolution in this country as well. People don't like it when they feel that their future has been stolen from them. A lot of folks want their future back. DC better start listening . . .

We know what democracy means. We won't settle for economic slavery.

If warranted I will provide more updates on this story.

Related Links

"Pay your debt or else! SWAT Team Visits Loan Defaulter -- UPDATED," Crooks and Liars, Nicole Belle, June 9, 2011

"The Department of Education Means Business," The American Conservative, June 9, 2011

"U.S. Education officials let for-profit colleges and 'universities' off easy, but beat down innocent consumer's door, handcuff him for six hours," U.S. PIRG Consumer Blog, June 9, 2011

"Does the Department of Education have a SWAT team?," USAToday, June 8, 2011

"Pay your student loans or else," Future Majority, June 8, 2011

"Education Department S.W.A.T. team raids California home," Washington Post Blog, June 8, 2011

AEM Coverage

Breaking News: Copy of the Warrant!,  June 9, 2011

UPDATE The Department of Education S.W.A.T. Team Fiasco, June 9, 2011

Update III, June 9, 2011


The station has updated the story and focused on the question of whether or not federal agents used “excessive force.” The reporter, George Warren, made no mention of defaulted student loans in the updated version. In addition, News10 provided a link to the warrant that is truncated. The entire warrant is currently sealed

- Since the airing of the first report, Wright has hired a Sacramento-based attorney named Mark Reichel.

- Sara Gast followed up with an email today, clarifying her original statement.

Yesterday, the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General executed a search warrant at a Stockton, Calif., residence with the presence of local law enforcement authorities.

While it was reported in local media that the search was related to a defaulted student loan, that is incorrect. This is related to a criminal investigation. The Inspector General’s Office does not execute search warrants for late loan payments.

Because this is an ongoing criminal investigation, we can’t comment on the specifics of the case. We can say that the OIG’s office conducts about 30-35 search warrants a year on issues such as bribery, fraud, and embezzlement of federal student aid funds.


Anonymous said...

Just think, if Mr. Kenneth Wright never went to the local news we would never have known about this over the top SWAT Team Raid! And to conduct this "mission" under the cover of darkness in the very early hours of the morning when there were 3 little children in the house? But thanks to Mr. Wright for coming forward, one person has exposed the Dept of Ed to the world for who they truly are! Mr. Wright's story should remind us all to be vocal and continue raising awareness on the student loan crisis! Keep writing, blogging, and reaching out to media outlets! This fight is far from over but in the end the truth always prevails.

Bill Ames said...

You say that the use of Special Weapons and Tactics is an indication of how far right this country has moved...I disagree. Those of us on the right not only abhor this kind of jack-booted thuggery and the militarization of the police, but we have called it out as a violation of our constitutional rights on numerous occasions. Rather than right vs. left, I see it as simple tyranny, and we can all fight against that.

Anonymous said...

The future?

I can't get my past back. My deeply indebted youth back.


BTW, that pic is perfect for today. It was frigin' HOT here in NY.

Anonymous said...

One of the problems with student loans is that students keep using them to get USELESS degrees that in no way will give them a chance to pay back their debts.

Any students out there?

Think long and hard before deciding on your major and signing on the dotted line.

Strelnikov said...

The other element to this story is SWAT team abuse: too many jurisdictions have SWAT teams they never use, so they get sent out on rediculous "missions" like delivering subpoenas, and excessive amounts of force are used. Why do we have so many SWAT teams? Because the US government held a fire sale of light military weaponry after the Cold War ended, so little towns now have armored cars, ex-Army helicopters, loads of old M-16 rifles and military shotguns - THAT THEY DON'T NEED.

Cryn Johannsen said...

@Bill - very good points. Thanks for sharing. I never mean to be divisive in my work. Although we have political differences, we both agree that this crisis needs to be solved and that together that is possible. There is still possibility. We're fighting, and I'm delighted to know you and have your support.

Cryn Johannsen said...

@Anonymous 4:08 PM - so, please tell me how you define 'useless degrees?' For you better not suggest that we throw out the liberal arts. I encourage you to read my interview with Henry A. Giroux on Truthout about the reason why we need people educated in the humanities - it makes us good CITIZENS and CRITICAL THINKERS. That's why those are not 'useless degrees.' But maybe you're not referring to those types of degrees.

Here's some edifying work about that topic and the importance of receiving an education that allows you to become a skeptical, independent thinker:

"Higher Education Under Attack: An Interview with Henry A. Giroux," Truthout, Cryn Johannsen, April 22, 2011 -

"Classroom Time For A Reader," AEM, Cryn Johannsen, June 4, 2011 -

"In Defense of the Liberal Arts," Newsweek, Jon Meacham, January 9, 2010 -

Video: In Defense of Humanities - Joshua Landy, Professor of French and Italian, Stanford -

Mind you, my defense of the humanities does not justify skyrocketing tuition - that is tied to the corporatization of the academy, which I regard as perilous to academic thinking.

Anonymous said...

Liberal arts=critical thinkers. LOL!

If one wants to be a critical thinker, one should study a hard science, CS, econ, engineering, or many other options, but not liberal arts. Not only that, one would also use their critical thinking to do something USEFUL for society, instead of serving espressos and mochas like liberal arts majors do after college.

Anonymous said...

Surely the withholding of the first semester grades by a Law School,

and making the student pay tuition in full (all or part with Federal Student Loan Money) before being allowed to attend classes for the second semester, would constitute: "bribery, fraud, and embezzlement of federal student aid funds"

Nando said...

Cryn, you have done excellent work covering this sick situation. The central point is this: if we allow these pigs and cockroaches to kick down doors for those who (allegedly) embezzle student loan funds - and do not raise hell - it will encourage these bastards to send in SWAT when students default. If you ignore instances such as this, you will see the feds engage in these sickening actions - more often.

We have seen people take a stand on this story, from the left and right. Do we want to see SWAT terrorize families, if a student debtor tells Sallie Mae or Nelnet to suck a camel's beanbag?!?! It is important to keep this story in the public spotlight.

Thank you and all of your readers, and decent human beings around the globe, for exposing this nonsense and thuggery. Lastly, thank you Kenneth Wright for not being a compliant, quiet sheep. YOU had the balls and backbone to stand up to these pigs, and share your horror story with the world.

We need to set up tent cities or sit-ins on America's college campuses, and engage in avant garde journalism across this land.

Cryn Johannsen said...

@Nando - agreed. Kenneth Wright had a lot of guts for sharing his story.

Anonymous said...

Cryn, you have been a consistent voice citing the lack of oversight of the financial aid programs by federal officials, including at Educ. Dept. and FSA. One would think that, of anyone out there, you would be the one cheering this aggressive raid loudly at the top of lungs. For months you have been saying that the Educ. Dept. is essentially captive of the educational sector and has completely dropped the ball on oversight, enforcement and compliance -- essentially letting postsecondary institutions run wild, without regulation. Whether it is for-profit or non-profit colleges, the lack of enforcement has been a running theme.

This is what enforcement looks like. One of the major focuses is ginned-up scams to obtain Pell Grants and Stafford loans. Granted, there is probably too much focus on $5 million schemes, rather than $500 million schemes. That is political reality, though, to go after those who don't have lobbyists backing them up in Washington. However, there is certainly never going to be the move on the large potatoes when the blogosphere is ridiculing even the most basic enforcement efforts.

Surely, borrowers would be much better off if the Educ. Dept. had put a top 10 college and a top 10 lender out of business in 2005. While a few hundred students and borrowers would likely have had their lives disrupted for a semester or two, the lives of millions of students and borrowers could have been brightened in the years subsequent, as colleges and lenders cleaned up their act, motivated by the fear of aggressive enforcement.

To get a historically politically-weak agency up to where it can effectively police the wrongdoers, whether large institutions or small gangs of financial aid scam artists, the organizational prestige needs to be raised to the level of agencies such as Labor (OSHA, etc.), DoD, DHS, Treasury, FBI, and so on.

To accomplish your stated goals, what is needed is "viral wildfire" supporting aggressive raids, not ridiculing them. Nando is way off base in this particular situation. A cursory review of the last couple decades of OIG semiannual reports would indicate a consistent effort to move against the financial aid scam artists, including those who embezzle federal funds. Many of these perps were not attempting to attend college; the programs were simply a source of illgotten cash for them. What is wrong with attempting to arrest and prosecute them? The enforcement efforts against small for-profits have also been consistent. It would certainly be better if the Educ. Dept. and FSA also were as tough on larger institutions, including colleges, guarantors and lenders, but why throw the baby out with the bath water and abandon all enforcement efforts?

The general public is definitely privy to the basic facts related to these activities.

Warwick from Miami said...

This is what Mr. Wright's attorney had to say:
" I am the attorney for Kenneth Wright and his young children and will be filing suit on their  behalf. 

Mr. Wright, who is divorced from Mrs. Wright, was at home at 6 a.m. with his 3 children, a daughter aged 3 and two boys just slightly older. Their door was kicked down, Kenneth was dragged wearing only boxer shorts (which ripped during the dragging) to his front lawn and a knee was placed against his neck for 45 minutes.  He was not shown a copy of any warrant, nor told much of what was going on. When he saw a patrol car by stretching his neck off the grass, he was pleased to find out it wasn’t some organized crime hit on his family, or a crime gang at the wrong address. His children were then marched downstairs with their hands up at gunpoint. Yes, that happened.

6 hours later, when their tiny house had been thoroughly searched by the 15 SWAT team members, they were told they were looking for Mrs. Wright, who appears to be a suspect for low level student loan fraud. This was news to the Wrights, who would have kindly allowed such a search and would have helped them to find Mrs. Wright, if they could.  If they could have the knee off their neck.  The 15 armed federal SWAT members were ready just in case Mrs. Wright started throwing  phony loan documents at them, some with staples.  

Mrs. Wright is not related to Osama Bin Laden. Financial executives who did more harm to this country than the Japanese at Pearl Harbor or Al Qaeda did in New York get charged with stealing billions of dollars and are courteously summoned to appear in court when charged. They are in essence “asked” to appear, on their own, in their best suit, in a limo.  She hasn’t been charged, is just under investigation.

Hamilton, Madison, Washington and Jefferson are indeed crying somewhere as they watch what has happened to the people in this country.

Mark Reichel

Cryn Johannsen said...

@Anonymous June 9 11:16 AM - My jaw dropped after reading the first three lines of your remarks. Do you understand the difference between INSTITUTIONAL enforcement vs. sending in a SWAT Team and doing this to Mr. Wright? I do not condone EXCESSIVE force in this manner. I have provided the facts as the story unfolds. Regardless of Mr. Wright's involvement - if he has any - I do not think this type of activity is warranted. You are so off base. I am stunned.

Cryn Johannsen said...

You also missed my point about the general public not being aware of the way in which the OIG goes after people with warrants. I get the links and I understand it - but why on earth do you think it went viral? Because the general public doesn't read those sorts of things. That's why there was such outrage, and why I have continued to update the story.

Nando said...

To the morally-bankrupt piece of garbage who posted on June 9th at 11:16 pm,

Hello cockroach. How are things going at the U.S. Department of “Education,” apologist bitch?!?!

HOW am I “way off base”?! Would you care to explain your position? Or do you prefer to make conclusive statements - as if you were the fount of all knowledge?

Let’s attempt some basic logic here, moron. (Hopefully, you don’t suffer a stroke from exposure to true information, Ass-Clown.) If rape victims do not report their assailants, guess what, Dumbass?! Those perpetrators will avoid punishment, and will be more likely to rape other victims. Do…you…understand…that…cretin? Or do I need to draw out a diagram for your ignorant ass, using posterboard and Crayola?!

More analogies, for your anemic brain: if residents of a neighborhood suffer home invasions and robberies, but don’t report these incidents to the police, they are more likely to be victimized again. Here is a concrete example: if the government refuses to go after cockroach CEOs who embezzle billions, then those executives will understand that they can continue to steal large sums of money.

We need to go after corrupt, filthy univer$ity adminstrators. Break down the doors to their palatial mansions, at 6 am, and have DOE SWAT teams drag them out in their boxers at gunpoint. Perhaps this will discourage other pigs from producing false employment stats - and pumping out FAR TOO MANY graduates, for the number of jobs requiring a four-year degree.

You are welcome for the beatdown. If you are still trying to recover, check out this video for an artistic interpretation of how I handled your dense ass:

Anonymous said...

Your job as a future mother is to learn the god's ways and to help your child understand despite the negative reinforcement and conditioning of today's society. Without consciousous parents the child will have no hope, and may even exaserbate their disfavor by becoming corrupted in today's environment.
Your ultimate goal is to fix your relationship wiith the gods and move on. You don't want to be comfortable here, and the changes in Western society in the last 100 years has achieved just that.
1000 years with Jesus is the consolation prize. Don't be deceived into thinking that is the goal.

The gods tempt people for which they are most weak. Artificial Intelligence will create desire in people's minds for the following sins:::
1. Alcohol
2. Drugs
3. Preditory "earning"
4. Homosexuality
5. Gambling
6. Something for nothing/irresponsibility (xtianity)
7. Polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny (Islam)
Much like the other prophets Mohhamed (polygamy/superiority over women/misogyny) and Jesus (forgiveness/savior), the gods use me for temptation as well. In today's modern society they feel people are most weak for popular culture/sensationalism, and the clues date back to WorldWarII and Unit731:TSUSHOGO, the Chinese Holocaust.
It has been discussed that, similar to the Matrix concept, the gods will offer a REAL "Second Coming of Christ", while the "fake" Second Coming will come at the end and follow New Testiment scripture and their xtian positioning. I may be that real Second Coming.
What I teach is the god's true way. It is what is expected of people, and only those who follow this truth will be eligible to ascend into heaven as children in a future life. They offered this event because the masses have just enough time to work on and fix their relationship with the gods and ascend, to move and grow past Planet Earth, before the obligatory xtian "consolation prize" of "1000 years with Jesus on Earth" begins.

The Prince of Darkness, battling the gods over the souls of the Damned.
It is the gods who have created this environment and led people into Damnation with temptation. The god's positioning proves they work to prevent people's understanding.
How often is xtian dogma wrong? Expect it is about the Lucifer issue as well.
The fallen god, fighting for justice for the disfavored, banished to Earth as the fallen angel?
I believe much as the Noah's Flood event, the end of the world will be initiated by revelry among the people. It will be positioned to be sanctioned by the gods and led for "1000 years with Jesus on Earth".
In light of modern developments this can entail many pleasures:::Medicine "cures" aging, the "manufacture" of incredible beauty via cloning as sex slaves, free (synthetic) cocaine, etc.
Somewhere during the 1000 years the party will start to "die off", literally. Only those who maintain chaste, pure lifestyles, resisting these temptations, will survive the 1000 years. Condemned to experience another epoch of planet's history for their ignorant pursuit of xtianity, they will be the candidates used to (re)colonize (the next) Planet Earth, condemned to relive the misery experienced by the peasantry during history due to their failure to ascend into heaven before the Apocalypse.
Never forget:::It is not a house of Jesus.
If this concept of Lucifer is true another role of this individual may be to initiate disfavor and temptation among this new poulation, the proverbial "apple" of this Garden of Eden. A crucial figure in the history of any planet, he begins the process of deterioration and decay that leads civilizations to where Planet Earth remains today.
Which one is it? Probably both:::
One transitions into the other, allowing the gods to wash their hands of obligation to their Chosen One.

You are faced with a lifetime to work and prepare for your next chance. Too many will waste this time working, etc.

Cryn Johannsen said...

@Anonymous 12:45 PM - unless you're God, I'm not going to take this warning, if that's what is, seriously. Granted, your theology is fascinating. It reminds me of a man who lived long ago in Italy, and thought a lot about Cheese and Worms. Perhaps you are a 21st century Menocchio?

Thank God for Ginzburg and his microhistories.

LMossup said...

Sounds like Nando is basically agreeing with Anonymous 11:16 PM. Perhaps these two could explain the difference, if any, in their views.